What Are You Doing Pastor? Growing the Church

PurposeSo what exactly is the job of a “pastor”? It would seem it is about the formation of God’s people and not about the gathering of people (God’s or otherwise). The call to serve the Church by serving a local gathering of those who call on the name of the Lord is not a call to gather crowds. It is a call to see folks transformed by the power of the Spirit into the community of God. It is to see God’s kingdom in the lives of God’s people. It is to share in the life of Jesus and to grow in our staying in step with the Spirit. It is about reconciliation, whole-ness, and holiness. It is about the making of disciples, not the growing of numbers in a service.
Preaching and teaching play their part in this. The public (and private) hearing and obedience to Scripture. Praying without ceasing. Guarding one’s life, family, and church against the wiles of the enemy by walking in mercy and holiness. I could go on, but the point is that it is about the formation (really, the transformation) of God’s people as saints who are being discipled and making disciples. It is not about numbers. It is about people…God’s people.
So what is the job (perhaps I should say “calling”) of a pastor? To be a faithful, Spirit-empowered equipper of the saints who, together with all those whom God by His Spirit gifts, serves to see the whole community of God’s people growing together in

“unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT)

Amen and amen! This is actually the only “growth” laid out for the pastor (indeed for all of the Church). Growth in Christ Jesus as Lord of all!
Originally blogged by me at bluechippastor.org on March 25, 2013.

A Brief Rejoinder to "The Mega-Problem Behind the 'Falls' of Megachurch Pastors"

Pastor_0The ouster of Perry Noble has led to a spate of articles and blogs including a recent article in Relevant Magazine (online) which touts the title: “The Mega-Problem Behind the ‘Falls’ of Megachurch Pastors”. The article’s author, Eddie Kaufholz, proposes that the stresses of the megachurch are partly to blame given the enormity of the responsibilities on these megachurch lead pastors. And I have a rejoinder. Sorry Eddie.
This is not a megachurch pastor issue. Perhaps the stresses of such a context are exponentially greater…or perhaps not. They may have the stress of staff, but the solo-pastor of a small church has the stress of being the only one to blame when things go poorly. At least a pastor with staff can remove others as the ones to blame (I’ve seen that happen all too often).
This is a people issue and it is a sin issue. The only reason this makes news is because a megachurch pastor has more people already taking notice of them…listening to them…reading them. It happens often enough among pastors of churches of all sizes (as I have sadly walked through in a pastor-of-pastors leadership role).
While the cult of personality is an issue, it is an issue no matter the size. I’ve known wandering lonely “prophets” who believed in themselves when all others saw them as mentally and/or spiritually disturbed. They were convinced that they were the end-all. The savior complex creeps in no matter the size of a congregation (or lack there-of). Again, this is a sin issue; we have one Lord and Savior.
In reality, we must do something to address the proper training and care of ministers to best aid them in walking in holiness, humility and faithfulness in whatever context they find themselves (this is what I do as a professor training ministers and continuing to mentor ministers). Discipleship and accountability is the name of the game. We must also move toward greater congregational involvement in the regular ministry of the local church so that such contexts become less about the individual and more about the gathered body empowered by the Spirit to carry out the work of the ministry.

Thinking Big About Pastors of Small Churches

Church sign
I am delighted with the growing interest in helping small church pastors be the best pastors (and their congregations the best congregations) they can be. Serving faithfully wherever God calls. One recently discovered resource is offering a plethora of helps for small church pastors and Karl Vaters has apparently only been at it for 100 days (but WOW! has he done a LOT in that time). What a terrific day and age to be a small church pastor. There are opportunities like never before to serve our communities and be resourced to bring greater glory to God.
With that in mind, I was listening to a message by pastor Mark Dever delivered at the recent Desiring God conference for pastors. He shared a quote–that has stayed with him and made impact in his own life and ministry–that I was struck by:
John Brown in a letter of paternal counsels to one of his pupils newly ordained over a small congregation:

“I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”

And while you are at it, check out his first message on being a discipling pastor in a discipling community titled “Centrality of the Church in Discipleship” (neatly summarized toward the end by the poetic: Preach and Pray, Love and Stay). Love it!
Originally blogged by myself at bluechippastor.org on February 27, 2013.
Three years later, I am even more passionate about seeing pastors of small congregations succeed in doing what the Lord has called them to do. I say this as one who regularly preaches to gatherings of a few dozen and has pastored churches of 20-60 congregants. I am also grateful to serve in an institution like Trinity Bible College and Graduate School that equally cares for churches of all sizes and the pastors called to serve them.

Pioneering Movements: A Book Review

As one who is supervising the writing of a Master’s thesis over the course of this year on the topic of church planting, I was thrilled to receive a review copy from IVP on the notion of pioneering movements. What is especially helpful about this volume is its practical application to the multiplication (and not simply addition) of those participating in the job of planting churches and the planting itself.

PictureAddison, Steve, Pioneering Movements: Leadership That Multiplies Disciples and Churches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 192 pp, paperback, retail $16. ISBN 9780830844418.
As one who is supervising the writing of a Master’s thesis over the course of this year on the topic of church planting, I was thrilled to receive a review copy from IVP on the notion of pioneering movements. What is especially helpful about this volume is its practical application to the multiplication (and not simply addition) of those participating in the job of planting churches and the planting itself.
This volume is the third one for Steve Addison (Movements that Changed the World and What Jesus Started) and it presses his work yet further offering a genuine proposal for creating church planting movements rather than simply planting churches ourselves. The key move forward for this volume is the specific implementation of training believers (however new to Christ they might happen to be) on how to plant churches and how to train others to plant churches. It is intentionally a movement that does not entail professionalization, but focuses instead on the enablement of all to carry forward the mission of Christ into the world.
A brief outline:
Addison opens with a brief discussion of the role and nature of the “apostle” in the Biblical text. He makes a case for apostolicity that functions to establish churches and develop others who will also establish churches and follows this with his own journey as an “apostle” and one training other “apostles” to plant churches and train others to follow (pp. 15-35).
Addison goes on to a short summation of the work of Jesus who himself focused on training others to release into the work of planting churches (pp. 37-46). He follows this up with a short (and helpful) summation of the work of Peter to do likewise as he had been commissioned by Jesus (pp. 47-59).
He shares numerous stories (historical and contemporary) of church planters and church planting movements which range from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia Pacific, South Asia, China, Europe, the Islamic world, and North America. I found these numerous contexts to offer a multiplicity of motivational accounts from such diverse backgrounds (among the planters) and contexts, but with each following unique trajectories to see church planting movements established. This was a potent way to make the case for the methodology proposed by the intermingled methodological chapters.
Among his methodological chapters are such things as the proper relationship between the “church” and “missionary bands”. These should neither become confused with one another nor should either dominate they other, but they must work in fellowship with one another (no small task in the lived reality of people in the midst of redemption).
He goes on to describe five levels of “movement leadership”: (1) seed sower, (2) church planter, (3) church multiplier, (4) multiplication trainer, and (5) movement catalyst. These are not simple steps where one is intended to progress along from one to the next or like a ladder being intended to climb to the “top”. Instead, these simply function as various roles which must be filled as part of the move toward creating a church planting movement rather than simply planting churches. There is not really a linearity to the movement either. One might discover that their gifts are best used in one particular area rather than another, but each of these must be present to generate the church planting movement (pp. 95-108).
His marks of a church entail: recognized local leaders, habit of giving, Lord’s Supper is regularly celebrated, baptizing new believers, training to share the gospel, studies in basic discipleship completed, studies in church formation and self-recognition as a “church”. He does also hint multiple times when arguing for “self-governance” of all church plants that they must practice their own discipline as a part of their life as a church. To count as a “movement” this must become self-replicating to at least the “third generation” where a church that has been planted, has reproduced itself and that reproduction has also reproduced itself.
This volume was simple to read and offered a very basic introduction to how one might begin to work toward a church planting movement. It offers advice on simple ways of sharing Christ (such as asking, “What would be your miracle that I can pray for?”), training others to share Christ, and points to resources for just such training. Addison also offers a number of maps and charts/graphs throughout this work which offer helpful examples to visualize what he is describing. At times, it seemed this was almost more of a marketing scheme to acquire further resources (eg, the “Discovery Bible Study”), but the resources are actually offered freely and this is basically a form of an inductive study of Scripture which calls for accountability in putting into practice what has been heard in the text of Scripture.
He closes the volume with a discussion of the many reasons a person might not either do the work of church planting and multiplication by asking numerous questions rooted in actual experience among church planters that cover such issues as health, money, people issues, family, and persecution. With such realities one cannot simply think to put their hand to this work without counting the cost.
Addison’s approach is certainly friendly to a more Pentecostal/Charismatic approach as it presumes one lives in the gifts of the Spirit and expects miraculous answers to prayer. He also seeks to keep church planting movements from becoming over-reliant on outside resourcing (whether human or financial) which I find helpful against the likes of “The Gospel for Asia” methodology which seems to me a reversion to an earlier almost colonial form of missions focused on outsiders paying insiders to pastor and plant churches. This is emphatically opposed by Addison (much to his credit though he never names this organization specifically and I only offer it because of its impact via K. P. Yohannan’s book Revolution in World Missions).
Overall, I would commend this book to pastors, missionaries and church planters globally. I intend to give away copies myself since I see this as a launching point for working to advance churches being planted globally and the good news being shared with all of creation.
*I received a copy of this book to review from IVP (for which I am grateful), but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this volume.

Preaching Christ and Helping Marriages

Love and Respect
Love & Respect (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marriage seminars and sermon series are all the rage. Churches seem to offer a regular smorgasbord of options intended to strengthen the family, but are we doing what we were intended to do? Is it the local church’s responsibility to provide marriage counseling? Is it the church’s duty to detail the nature of inter-personal communication and conflict resolution?*
I know these questions are provocative. They are questions I wrestle with regularly. And I do so even as I am specifically offering a marriage series on Sunday nights (the “Love and Respect” Small Group study**). I do believe the local church must offer helps to its congregants and to the local community, but is it perhaps overly easy to fall into attempts at psychological answers in place of Biblical answers? I firmly believe the church (my congregation included) MUST strengthen families through every means available, but the question remains…where do we say that the Church MUST be the place where God’s Word is proclaimed and lived out and not simply another tool. Where the Scriptures function as more than a crutch to our marriages, but functions as the transformative, life-giving message of God’s Spirit changing and conforming us into the image of God.
It is far too easy (as Eugene Peterson pointed out in “The Pastor: A Memoir”) to fall into offering helps that are not the direct purview of the Church or the pastor. It is easier in some sense to speak to the psychological and social issues involved and offer such models for resolving conflicts, or improving the well-being of our congregants, but (while these can be incredibly beneficial) do such things belong to the direct responsibility of the local church? Can we offer such helps (as in some sense para-church outreaches), even while retaining our primary responsibility of preaching Christ crucified, risen and coming again as the grounds for our daily lives? I am persuaded that the good news says much about our relationships, but do not want to put undo emphasis where it does not belong. I guess what I’m asking is, should the task of preaching be to offer marriage seminar-like messages…or does it need to be something more? Messages where Christ is central and marriage peripheral.
If so, how do we maintain the centrality of the story of God’s redemption of creation in Christ, while still offering helps which do not belong centrally to that message, but may still be vital to the overall health of our churches?
* Disclaimer: I offer pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, have preached (and will continue to) on issues of the family and marriage (as a matter of following the text of Scripture we are working through and not as a separate series), and offer specific events targeting families, marriages, singles, and parenting.
** I highly recommend this series for its helpfulness.
Originally published by myself at bluechippastor.org on Jan. 21, 2013.

Responding to Decline

Church growthHow should the church, and we as ministers, respond to decline?  It seems our normal way is to try to be ever more inclusive (just look at many of the mainline churches in the North American context).  Is there perhaps a correlation between excessive inclusiveness and decline?  But is this really the best response to decline of pastoral applicants and shrinking congregations? The following is a Facebook post by Chris Green that rather provocatively offers an answer to the question at hand:

I don’t think it’s possible to agree more with someone than I do with Fabricius on this point: “How should the church respond to congregational decline, financial deficits, and vocational shrinkage? The answer is obvious: make ministerial selection more stringent, theological education more demanding, and spiritual formation more exacting. And burn anyone who proposes a managerial or entrepreneurial solution.”

So what are your thoughts?  Should our churches develop better “business” models to try to grow the declining church…or should our churches become ever more rigorous in our requirements?  Or is there some other direction the Church should take?
Originally published by me at bluechippastors.org on December 12, 2012.

Using the Dirty "E" Word

You know the word…”ecumenical”. At least, I always used to think it was a dirty word. What does it mean to be “ecumenical”? It refers (in my usage) to

Seventh ecumenical council, Icon, 17th century, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Seventh ecumenical council, Icon, 17th century, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know the word… “ecumenical”.  At least, I always used to think it was a dirty word.  What does it mean to be “ecumenical”?  It refers (in my usage) to the interrelations of various churches and ministries under the wide umbrella of “Christianity” (though others may take it in a broader sense).  I have discovered great difficulties and benefits in my ecumenical work over my brief 13 years of pastoral ministry.
I had opportunity several years ago to participate in the largest ecumenical gathering of Christian leaders in Minnesota’s history. It was certainly an affair to remember.  Bishops, Presidents, Superintendents from nearly every flavor of the Christian tradition represented in Minnesota…and Rick.  I was the lone Assembly of God representative.  Yes, that’s right.  I represented the Assemblies by myself only because there was a scheduling issue for ALL the actual leadership (though to be fair I am an assistant presbyter in one of the fifteen sections of MN 🙂 ).  I felt like I should have made a cape or a really tall hat to wear that day.
It was (to some extent) a debacle as there were numerous attempts to simply boil everything down to the most common denominator among us.  That really doesn’t leave much of anything.  In the end, about all that could be agreed upon (from my perspective) was that we could corporately do community projects to alleviate social ills (yes, that generic).  I left feeling rather disheartened by the whole affair.  Maybe I’m too much of a curmudgeon, but I really would rather not think we are being terribly “ecumenical” when all we have to really agree on was to care for the poor (among a few other things).
However, on the local level, I’ve found a greater sense of the ecumenical spirit I have learned to long for: corporate worship, prayer, study of Scripture, ministry, service.  It hasn’t always been so positive in all of the communities I’ve pastored, but in Karlstad I have found a tremendous camaraderie and a thorough desire to work together for the benefit of the faith community and the wider community.  Our close-knit community means none of our congregations really have a lot of others of our identical theological-denominational flavor and so we live in a place that seems to better facilitate the potential of working together…or simply not surviving in the ministry.  I know of others who serve where they can be more “selective” about their relationships with other pastors and congregations, but in a rural setting it seems nearly impossible to escape the need for one another.  I would like to think I seek to be ecumenical for greater reasons than such pragmatics would suggest, but it certainly helps to keep me working at the relationships in my community.
From my perspective, a genuine ecumenical spirit means praying for and with one another, sharing in the work of serving the community, sitting under the authority of the Word together, admonishing each other toward faithfulness and being likewise admonished, and even (dare I say it) sharing meals together and even the Lord’s Supper.  Now that is an ecumenical vision I can give myself to!  And perhaps even an indicator of “being one” as Jesus is with His Father (!).  Now that is radical. 🙂
So what are your thoughts on being “ecumenical”?  Do you find it to be a strength or weakness of your ministry?  How has your “ecumenical” experience been?
Originally published by me at bluechippastors.org on October 1, 2012.

More on Rural Churches

ThoughtfulThink Theology” has offered another thought provoking post on what is involved in rural pastoral work.  Specifically, Pastor Able Baker (in BC) has mentioned four things imperative (to my estimation) for successful rural pastoral ministry (HERE).
The only thing I might add would be that patience is the name of the game.  It does no one any good to be overly pushy in ministry, but particularly in rural ministry.  There is a tremendous need to allow things time to develop properly.  Certainly patience is required anywhere, but in rural ministry it is a MUST as it relates to the cultural ethos at a much deeper level.  There is a great need for (rural) pastors who will allow and encourage the local community of believers to grow and mature together without superimposing any pre-conceived notions of what the congregation must look like.  This God-ordained, Christ-indwelt, Spirit-filled congregation can (and will) hear from God and move forward if the pastor will participate as one who encourages and facilitates such an environment of patience (with the end-game being congregational and personal growth that gives God the glory).
Growth takes time.  In a rural context, it takes TIME.  Particularly when our objective is not growth for its own sake (that is called an “abnormality” in other contexts), but growth that is healthy and God-honoring.  We need to set aside our own agenda (and time-frame) and recognize there are far deeper things the Lord may have in store for us than the “growth” we have envisioned that may never happen if we are not patient.
Can we hear from the Lord together?  Can we be mutually beneficial for one another in due time?  Can we allow each one and every one the grace to mature towards Christ over time as a family?
Originally published at bluechippastors.org on September 5, 2012.

A Church I Can Believe In

Church FunnyA major issue in our western consumerist culture is that consumerist concerns are immediately applied to the way Church is viewed and practiced.  What can be offered for me?  What do I gain by being a part of this congregation?  What can we do to attract more folks?
While this is not only a problem in the contemporary or western Church (think of the issues mentioned by Paul and Jude concerning preachers in it for their own gain, or the Corinthian battle for pneumatic-supremacy), it has been sharpened by our propensity to consume.  If we don’t find what we are shopping for then we move on. This does not tend to be driven by any biblical notion of priorities for participating in the life of the Church.  Instead, it seems to be driven by market values (e.g., programs).
Certainly there is much to be said for trying to reach our culture in relevant ways, but should it be done at the expense of seriously thinking through our practices as the Church?  Why do we offer this or that message or program?  Why do we feel the need for it?  In fact, what is the purpose of the Church?  Why do we exist and to what end?  Do our various programs actually advance this center or do they simply offer trendy appeals to consumers?
I have often remembered the words of old-time evangelist Vance Havner who wrote, “Your job as the pastor is not to fill the pews, but to fill the pulpit.”  If we are faithful to what matters, we will not try (by other routes) to accomplish what God has determined to do if we are faithful witnesses to His life and kingdom.
Originally posted at bluechippastors.org on August 16, 2012

Three Things That Keep Me in My Church Tradition

Rather than simply answer in the comments section to Dan’s post about “What Keeps You In Your Church Tradition?,” I have decided to reply via a post and offer it as my own personal answer (because I have in fact been asked this very question at other times).  I decided three was a rather Biblical sounding number…so that should make this a very spiritual response.
First, I remain in my fellowship/tradition (the Assemblies of God) because it is where my deepest roots and greatest familiarity lay.  By that, I mean to say, I am most fully aware of the church structures and practices of this particular tradition.  I am well integrated into this tradition as well as being heavily networked with other A/G churches, ministries and ministers.  There is something to be said about the knowability factor.  Were I to join another tradition it would mean moving into unknown waters.  This may seem a rather pragmatic approach, but, hey, this is reality.
Second, I am kept in my tradition by its Pentecostal confession and practice.  I am unabashedly Pentecostal.  I believe God desires to empower His Church via the rich outpouring of Christ’s Spirit.  I believe in the continuing demonstration of the ministry of the Spirit in and through the communion of saints.  I remain because the A/G emphasizes this desire and passion for God’s Spirit to glorify Christ in and among us (even if at times we have not followed through either as genuine practitioners of the life of the Spirit or have simply gone wacko and blamed it on the Spirit).  I still fully believe God’s Spirit is at work in the wider Church and see the A/G as playing (hopefully) a pivotal role in seeing the Spirit poured out in greater measure on all varieties of congregations and traditions.  I have told Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics…Pentecostal experience of the Spirit is no respecter of denominational boundaries.
Third, and finally, I remain in the Assemblies because of missions.  This tradition stated from its inception that we are committed to “the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen”.  We remain committed to this and have continued to demonstrate it through our unprecedented mission program.  I am thrilled to be a part of a fellowship and tradition that makes its aim to reach the lost with the good news of the Kingdom.
So, how is that for my answer to the question Dan Thompson posed?  What are your thoughts on this?
Originally published at Bluechippastor.org on August 15, 2012